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World's first funeral robot unveiled

A Japanese company have unveiled the world's first funeral robot.

SoftBank's new robot Pepper - a Buddhist priest in robot form - went on display last week at the Life Ending Industry Expo in Tokyo.

It is thought the robot would cost 50,000 yen (about $450) for each funeral, whereas a human priest would be more likely to cost around 240,000 yen ($2,200).

Buddhist priest Tetsugi Matsuo was concerned if the robot could "impart the 'heart' aspect to a machine" because he believes "that the 'heart' is the foundation of religion".

It comes after a robot priest was installed at the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, which offers each person an "auto-blessing" when they move towards it.

Church spokesman Sebastian von Gehren said: "It is an experiment that is supposed to inspire discussion. One half [of the people] thinks it's great [whilst] the other cannot imagine a blessing from a machine."

Whilst the robots have been received well, von Gehren insists these robots won't be replacing pastors any time soon.

Understanding the limits of the robot, he added: "The machine should not replace the blessing of a pastor. In the future there will not be a blessing robot in every church."

And Brunhilde Hoeltz-Mettang, who visited the church, thinks it could be a way to share the Bible with a whole new set of people who might not have otherwise asked for a blessing.

She said: "It's interesting and courageous ... We have to think of new ways, beyond our core communities."

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